Stepping Out in Faith

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Has God asked you to do something scary? Something bigger than you? Something you know you can’t do? Awesome! You are blessed! And you are in very good company.  Every “hero/heroine” in the Bible had the same calling. And every one of them had to take a step of obedience before they saw the power of God in their task. Take the priests of Israel who were preparing to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They were to lead the way: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people” (Jos 3:5). Okay, they’d done this before at the Red Sea. I’m sure they all said, “Remember when Moses parted the sea and we walked across on dry ground? I am sure God will do it again!” Well, not exactly.

The Lord told the priests: “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s water, go and stand in the river” (v. 8). Oh, by the way, did I mention, “the Jordan is at flood stage” (v. 15). You gotta be kidding.  No, God never kids. But listen to what happened: “As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.  It piled up in a heap a great distance away . . .” (v. 15, 16). And just as before “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (v. 17).

At the Red Sea, God parted the waters before the people started across, but this time was different.  This time the priests had to dip their feet into the water. They had to literally step out in faith. But as soon as they did, God not only stopped the flow of the river, but he instantaneously dried up the riverbed. They walked across on dry ground.

In all the time I’ve walked God has never failed me. Never. Not one time. And I know He will not. But I also know that God has asked me for a step of faith before He poured out His power.   I don’t know what God is asking you to do, but I’ll bet it’s pretty scary.  Go for it, Beloved. Your toes may get a little wet, but you will always walk on dry ground.

Hebrews: Church Leaders

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“So you want to do something in the church,” the Pastor said.

“Yes, sir!” the man answered.

“What do you think you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“We could use some help in the youth department.”

“Hmm. Teenagers are not really my thing.”

“Okay, we need people to help with cleanup after Wednesday night suppers.”

“Oh. Well, I was thinking of something . . . more . . . I guess, more important.”

“Well, tell me what you have in mind then.”

“I want to be a deacon – you know, hand out the bulletins and take up the offering.”

“Being a deacon is much more than that, it’s a calling from God. Deacons are spiritual leaders in the church.”

“Yes! I can do that – I can be a leader.  Go call the rest of the guys to come lay hands on me!”

I may have embellished this conversation just a bit, but the truth is, a lot of people want to be leaders in the church. But leadership is not something to be taken on a whim; it is a holy responsibility and should be approached with reverence – and a calling. The author of Hebrews addressed “the laying on of hands,” as part of the ”elementary teachings” of the faith (6:2). This is a practice within the church of conferring a spiritual office on someone who has proven their call to leadership, usually as a pastor, elder, deacon, or other position of ministry.  It expresses the gravity of the role they are assuming in the church.

Paul warned Timothy to be careful in selecting leaders for the church in Ephesus. He counseled him not to appoint out of partiality or favoritism then added, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Timothy 5:21-22). Church leadership should never be handed out as favors and candidates for church leadership must prove their calling and fitness for service. You’ve probably seen the damage that can result from ungodly leaders – they can destroy a church and people’s lives.

What should we look for in a leader? The Bible gives us a great example in Acts 6 through Stephen who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), “full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8), and spiritual wisdom (v. 10). He knew the Scriptures well (I once had a deacon ask me where in the Bible is the story of the Little Drummer Boy). Stephen died defending the name of Christ. That’s a man who is called to serve the church. Beloved, we must be wise in choosing leaders and wise in whom we follow, lest they lead us right to the gates of hell.

Hebrews: Church Secretaries and High Priests

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Me and Carol Dehner hard at work at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church

I worked in church administration for more than 25 years. I often considered myself a Levite. Levi, one of the sons of Jacob, would become the priestly line for all of Israel. It was “the family business.” God called Aaron to be the first high priest, his sons to be “assistant” priests, and the remaining Levites to be their assistants “doing the work at the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 8:19). They managed the mundane details of the tabernacle so Aaron and his sons could perform sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. Like a Levi, I was the creator of bulletins and newsletters, handler of mail, and keeper of the membership records. I freed up the pastor to focus on the ministry of the Word, care of the members, and leading the church as God directed. It was not the weighty stuff the pastor did, but it helped the church run (fairly) smoothly.

Like a pastor, the high priest had a serious responsibility and it was not a job for just anyone. It was a divinely given role. In our ongoing study of Hebrews, the writer said, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.” (Hebrews 5:1). It was the most important position in Israel. The high priest represented the people before God and represented God before the people. In addition to interceding for them, He also taught them about righteousness. “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray,” (v. 2a). Because of who he represented, the high priest was expected to be holy – to be set apart from the common and certainly from sin. But at the end of the day, he was still a flesh-and-blood man like every other man. Listen to the second half of verse 2-3: “since himself is subject to weakness.” The high priest had ”to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.”

A Christian pastor is likewise called to his position. “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was” (v. 4). After many years of working with pastors, I can testify to the fact that it is not a job; it is a holy calling. (I could rant about pastors not being fit for the position, but I won’t.)

You’re probably wondering, what does my career and an OT history lesson have to do with the church today? I’m glad you asked, and I will answer – in our next Hebrews devotional.

Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

This is My Passion

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“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly hands the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

I’m taking a writing course and the first lessons are on understanding my “writing style” and my passion. As I’ve pondered the passion question: “What burns in my heart?” the answer always comes back to “rightly dividing the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

In the modern Western church, we are taught the Christian faith in “soundbites,” a story here, a parable there, Noah and David and Jesus. But those disjointed Sunday School lessons fail to teach the beautiful continuity in the Bible and the seamless work of God throughout human history. Worst of all is a verse pulled from it’s neighbors, sitting out all alone. It makes for a nice wall plaque, but do we know why this verse matters. What is its context? What is its backstory? What is the heart and principle within?
Jeremiah 29:11 is the “graduation verse” in every church, but do we understand its context? Do we know why God spoke those words and to whom? Do we understand the history of Israel and how that verse was such a source of hope to them and how it can be for us as well? It’s a great verse, but it’s even better taken in its full context.
John 3:16 speaks eloquently of God’s gracious love, but the greater context in chapter 3 also speaks powerfully of the condemnation of the human race and the reason why God sent His one and only Son. It’s the breadth and width of the gospel and it makes the truth of His love shine as brightly as a diamond on black velvet. We need to know the whole Bible, not just a verse here and a passage there.
That is my passion. That is what I long to give to the church. That is the seed God planted in my heart. It’s why I write and teach. It’s who I am.

Satan Hates Me

“A great door for effective work has opened for me and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Satan doesn’t like me. Want to know how I know? He has worked overtime this year to break me and to stop the work God has called me to do. He has hammered my family, taken away my husband’s health and livelihood, and brought tension and frustration between the three of us. He has caused financial hardships. He has tried to destroy my confidence in my calling, telling me that I spent four years in seminary for nothing and I will never be in ministry. He has shaken my faith and battered my joy. And I almost believed him, that is until he attacked the heart of my calling.

Last week my 4-year-old laptop died. The one I write on. The one I use to write blog posts and words of encouragement and Bible-study lessons. The one I used to start writing my first book. That’s when I recognized that the enemy had declared war on God’s purpose for my life, and like Paul, I realized that was a sure sign of God’s calling. I am not a young person who can type on my phone with great speed and accuracy (I’ve been at this simple post for more than an hour!), but if this is the only way I can fulfill my calling, so be it. Satan will not win.

Beloved, I don’t know what God has called you to do with your life, but I do know that the enemy wants to discourage you and make you give up. He will use every avenue he can against you, but do not let him win. You stay the course. You keep the faith. You do it to the best of your ability with whatever you have left and you do it with fierce determination and conviction. Because the enemy only opposes what God blesses, so if Satan’s got you in his crosshairs you can know that you’re doing what God created you to do.

Satan doesn’t like me – in fact he hates me. But he hates me because he’s afraid of me and what God intends to do through me. And in the Bible, that’s the clear, bold mark of God’s calling. Let’s get back to it friend – you and I have a purpose to fulfill!